A BATTLE royale for Final Four berths in the NCAA begins on Friday with the six remaining contenders seeing action in a blockbuster tripleheader at The Arena in San Juan.
Co-leaders San Beda, Perpetual and Letran have the inside track on the playoff berths, but all three can't afford a misstep. The race is so close, in fact, that even at the end of the three games, the seedings will likely still be undecided.
The Red Lions begin hostilities with a high-noon showdown against streaking Mapua, to be followed by the Altas' match against Jose Rizal University at 2 p.m. The Knights take on the Arellano Chiefs at 4 p.m.
The Red Lions, Altas, and Knights own an 11-4 win-loss records with the Cardinals and Chiefs right behind with a 10-5 card. Still very much in contention for a Final Four berth are the Heavy Bombers, who have a 9-6 slate.
A possible four-way tie for first place looms at the end of Friday’s games.
San Beda, eyeing a sixth straight crow, is in essence not used to this kind of situation, though Art Dela Cruz admitted that the tight battle for a place in the Final Four has made the league a lot more interesting.
“Kasi ‘yung past few seasons, parang after like five games, alam mo na ‘yung spot mo sa Final Four. But this year, maganda ‘yung situation,” said Dela Cruz.
“Walang kasiguraduhan kung saang spot ka na,” he added.
But while the Red Lions’ route may be difficult this time, Dela Cruz said the tight race can only benefit the league.
“Maganda sa marketing. Maganda rin sa mga schools. Mas competitive mga games,” said Dela Cruz.
The Red Lions will be facing a Chiefs team that is on a six-game tear. An even hotter team is Mapua, which has not lost a game in the second round in a run that included a big 81-76 win over Arellano last week.
San Beda lost to San Sebastian earlier this week and should be worried about Mapua’s running game anchored by Allwell Oraeme, who has grabbed 30 rebounds in successive games.
“Like coach Atoy (Co) said, we must be doing something right,” said Mapua assistant coach Ed Cordero. “We are not really healthy. There are issues on injuries but the team is beginning to show teamwork.”
While it is still on top of the team standings, Letran has dropped successive games to JRU and Mapua. Perpetual Help, on the other hand, has won two straight games against lightweights and can expect a tough test against JRU.
Arellano aims to bounce back from the loss to Mapuawhile JRU, which is two games behind the leaders, looks to stun Perpetual Help to complicate things.